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Scholar’s Rock (probably 18th century)

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at Scholar’s Rock (probably 18th century)

About the Work

Title : Scholar’s Rock
Year : probably 18th century
Medium : Ying stone: black limestone with veins of white calcite. From Yingde, Guangdong province.
Location : Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Scholar’s Rock

A scholar’s rock is a type of collectible rock from East Asia, typically China. In Chinese culture, scholar’s were known to collect particularly beautiful rocks found in nature and bring them home as decorative objects. These rocks were the put on some sort of pedestal or plinth – typically made of bronze – for display indoors.

The purpose of collecting rocks for the Chinese scholar was to bring home a piece of nature. Unlike Chinese garden rocks, scholar’s rocks were kept indoors. Writers, poets or artists would then look at these rocks and draw inspiration from them and in turn from mother nature. It is important to note however that not just any rock would be considered a scholar’s rock. In facts, there were certain features that people would look out for while collecting these.

According to Christies specialist Pola Antebi :

“Rocks of sombre colour are typically appreciated for their sensuous shapes, while rocks of bright colour are generally valued for their massed forms, which best showcase their colours.”
– Pola Antebi, Christie’s Collecting Guide: Scholars’ Rocks, 2015

Other Details

Scholar’s Rock is housed in the Harvard Art Museums in Room 2620. It is part of the museum’s collection of East Asian Art.

To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit Artwork in Focus.

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